Pax Britannia Author Jonathan Green On The Books That Made Me

Jonathan Green

Jonathan Green will be a familiar name to SFX readers. He's a perennial Black Library scribe, having most recently penned Shadows Over Sylvania for the publisher. Outside of the Warhammer 40,000 universe, Green is the creator of the steampunk Pax Britannia series and writer of several Fighting Fantasy gamebooks. He's most recently taken a foray into Kickstarter with his upcoming book You Are The Hero , which chronicles the Fighting Fantasy series.

As part of Waterstones' “ The Book That Made Me” campaign Jonathan talks about how he got started writing as well as his influences and what he's got planned for the future. You can visit the site the leave the story of the “Book That Made You”.

Tell us a bit about where you grew up.

“I grew up in a small village on the Wiltshire-Somerset border but went to school in the Georgian city of Bath. We were only ever about five minutes away from fields, woods, rivers and canals and it wasn’t much further to the nearest ruined castle. I think all of this has informed my work as a writer, and continues to do so.”

Were you interested in writing from an early age?

“Yes. I can’t remember not ever wanting to write. Writing is a lonely profession and I was an only child, so I think the two were a natural fit. I can remember making books aged six, drawing the covers and stapling them together. To be honest there were more pictures than words at that time, but I was always fascinated by books. And when I realised that it was someone’s job to write the stories they contained… that was something of an epiphany for me.

What's the first book you remember having an impact on your life?

“The book that immediately springs to mind is Carey Miller’s A Dictionary Of Monsters And Mysterious Beasts . I was eight or nine years old when my mum bought it for me, and I recall spending hours copying out the references about the different mythological creatures. Some of the images in that book are still the ones I picture first when I think about monsters such as Grendel, from the epic of Beowulf , or the Lambton Worm.”

What attracted you to writing in the speculative fiction genre?

“Writing fiction is all about asking, ‘What if?’ and never is that more true than when it comes to speculative fiction. Whether it’s high fantasy or giving a subtle unreal and unsettling twist to the everyday, it’s those types of stories I choose to read and, consequently, to write. We have to deal with the real world every day. Reading fiction, for me, is all about escapism. So why would I want to escape back to the real world when it comes to what I read for relaxation? And ultimately I think all writers write the stories they themselves want to read.”

What authors inspire you in your life?

“Terry Pratchett, Dan Abnett, Tim Powers, Kim Newman, James McGee, Peter Ackroyd, James Herbert, William Shakespeare, Sarah Pinborough, Rebecca Levene, Philip Reeve, Charles Dickens… Will that do?

“It’s not just prose writers either. There are a fair number of comics writer who have inspired me over the years, including Alan Moore, John Wagner, Robbie Morrison, Ian Edginton, Gordon Rennie, Pat Mills… In other words, a lot of writers inspire me!”

Have you ever had anyone tell you that any of your books have had a positive impact on their lives?

“Yes, I’m pleased to say. Most recently it was a Captain in the New Zealand navy who said that my Pax Britannia novels helped him relax from the stresses of being in charge of a guided-missile frigate on active duty.

“I don’t set out to write to improve the lives of others; my motivations as a writer are much more selfish than that. But it’s very gratifying when anyone says anything positive about my work.”

What is your favourite book and why?

“I really can’t answer that question. I’ve never been good with favourites because I’m always consuming new media, be it books, movies, games or music. There are very few books I’ve re-read either, no matter how much I’ve loved them, partly because that love comes from the feeling you get upon discovering something new for the first time.

“That said, a few of the books that have a profound effect on me (in terms of what I do professionally as much as anything else) would have to include Terry Pratchett’s I Shall Wear Midnight , Bram Stoker’s Dracula , Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula , and Tim Powers’ The Anubis Gates and On Stranger Tides . Oh, and Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone’s The Warlock Of Firetop Mountain , funnily enough.”

You've recently run a successful Kickstarter for a book called You Are the Hero . Tell us a bit about it.

“2012 was the 30th anniversary of the Fighting Fantasy series of adventure gamebooks that we big in the ’80s. You know the kind of thing – a story in which the reader is the hero and makes choices by turning to different pages. It was Fighting Fantasy that really inspired me to try getting published in the first place, and my first book was a Fighting Fantasy adventure called Spellbreaker .

“I wrote a piece for SFX magazine about the anniversary of the series, interviewing various people involved in creating the books, and the more I discovered the more I realised there was to discover. I talked to various friends (both authors and editors) about writing a proper history of Fighting Fantasy and it was Christian Dunn (range development editor at Black Library) who suggested I run a Kickstarter to raise funds and help the book find an audience. And so You Are The Hero , a history of Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, was born.

“For many fans, the art was as important as the adventures, so I wanted my history to reflect this, including loads of fantastic paintings and illustrations from the series. The Kickstarter gave me the means to raise the money needed to produce such an expensive book.”

Do you think Kickstarter is a good way for authors to get their books out there?

“It’s one way, certainly. I think it works well for books that will appeal to a very small, niche market, the sort of thing that it wouldn’t be worth a publisher doing a decent print run for, which is why it worked so well for You Are The Hero.

“In the end fewer than 500 people backed the project, but those people are passionate enough about Fighting Fantasy to invest enough money to mean that I will be able to publish a full-colour hardback coffee table-style celebration of the series.”

You're well known for your steampunk series, Pax Britannia. Can you tell us a bit about it?

“In the closing years of the 20th century the British Empire's rule is still going strong. Queen Victoria has been on the throne for 160 years, kept alive by advanced steam technology. London is a fantastical sprawling metropolis where dirigibles roam the skies, robot Bobbies enforce the law, and there are dinosaurs on display in London Zoo.

“Welcome to Magna Britannia, a steam-driven world full of fantastical creations, where dashing dandies and moustachioed villains battle for supremacy while below the city strange things stir in the flooded tunnels of the old London Underground.

“Enter Ulysses Quicksilver dandy, rogue and agent of the throne. Aided by his ever faithful manservant Nimrod this dashing soldier of fortune battles ape-men escapees from the Tower of London, giant cybernetic squid deep beneath the sea, and time-travelling Nazis on the dark side of the Moon. And eight books in, there’s no sign that Quicksilver’s adventures are going to end any time soon, so why not hop on board the steam-powered juggernaut that is Pax Britannia and join us for the ride of a lifetime?”

Anything else in the pipeline soon?

“There are all sorts of things in the pipeline – I just can’t really talk about them at the moment, other than to say one of the projects is steampunk, one is another gamebook, and one is a brand new novel. But at the moment it feels like my every waking hour is being taken up by You Are The Hero !

“I do have a number of short stories slated for release, however. One of these will be published in Jurassic London’s The Book Of The Dead (October 2013) and another is a Warhammer short story for Black Library, called ‘Sticks And Stones’.

“But in the meantime, fans of H P Lovecraft’s fiction might like to check out my novella The Serpent’s Egg that appears in the Dreaming In Darkness collection, although it’s not for the faint-hearted. And the inspiration for the story? Carey’s Miller’s A Dictionary of Monsters and Mysterious Beasts !”

Dave Golder
Freelance Writer

Dave is a TV and film journalist who specializes in the science fiction and fantasy genres. He's written books about film posters and post-apocalypses, alongside writing for SFX Magazine for many years.